Gullible Reporting by UPI – Did not Get the Memo From the NY Times About The Faulty Solar vs Nuclear Cost Paper
Almost exactly six months ago, the New York Times was taken in by a well-orchestrated media event by NC Warn, an antinuclear activist group, when its editors chose to publish an Energy and Environment Special Report titled Nuclear Energy Loses Cost Advantage. On January 28, 2010, the UPI published a story in their Science News section titled Cheap solar energy set to displace n-power that was based on exactly the same source of misinformation.
Apparently, the UPI did not get the memo from the NY Times editors who reluctantly issued an “Editor’s Note” to correct the story they had gullibly published. The UPI is also considered to be a credible news source; it is disappointing to see that 104-year-old stalwart of the media establishment publish such a biased and incorrect story.
Like the Times piece, the UPI story was poorly researched. It includes several marketing quotes from a solar systems salesman. Here is the lede of the UPI’s “science news” story:
New research has established that sophisticated new solar energy production methods make it far and away the cheapest and least hazardous energy source, certainly cheaper and safer than nuclear power.
The latest findings come through research by a British market leader in renewable energy production following on from studies at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
(Emphasis added. Even the biased sources used only claim cost parity, not superiority.)
That “market leader in renewable energy” is identified as Ken Moss, chief executive officer at U.K. solar power developer and producer mO3. mO3 is a company whose survival depends on convincing government decision makers to mandate an income stream from electricity customers. Under existing rules, those customers are forced to pay exorbitant feed-in-tariffs to support his company’s expensive, unreliable, weather-dependent solar parks. A number of government leaders want to reduce those subsidy payments as part of an important effort to reduce deficit spending.
In addition to basing a science news story on marketing claims from someone with a direct financial interest in obscuring the truth, the UPI did not provide accurate information its other source. The primary source for the UPI story was NOT part of a series of “studies” produced by the institution called Duke University as the above quote implies. Instead, the source was a single paper commissioned by NC Warn, a group that publicly advertises that fighting nuclear energy is one of its primary focus areas.
That group paid a retired economics professor who had been employed by Duke and a Masters of Environmental Management candidate studying at Duke to write a paper seductively titled Solar and Nuclear Costs — The Historic Crossover.
Aside: I suppose it is not a lie to say that the paper was written at a place called Duke University. The professor and the grad student might actually have used the Duke University library and maybe even a computer and printer owned by the university. End Aside.
The paper was made public with a mass press release; it was not published in any peer reviewed journal. Soon after the paper’s availability was announced, a freelance reporter named Diana S. Powers wrote a special report for the New York Times titled Nuclear Energy Loses Cost Advantage.
As far as I could tell from that report, Ms. Powers did not even read the full paper to understand the basis for the claim. She certainly did not consult any other sources that might help her understand the truth. Instead, she simply did exactly what an antinuclear activist group wanted her and other journalists to do; she published a biased claim painting a rosy picture of solar energy accompanied by additional incorrect information about nuclear energy.
The poorly sourced article generated some buzz within the pronuclear blogging community (see Is Solar Really Cheaper than Nuclear and Solar Study Under a Cloud) and a few letters to the editor. The NY Times published the following Editor’s Note to clarify Ms. Powers’s work.
Editors’ Note: August 3, 2010
An article published July 27 in an Energy Special Report analyzed the costs of nuclear energy production. It quoted a study that found that electricity from solar photovoltaic systems could now be produced less expensively than electricity from new nuclear power plants.
In raising several questions about this issue and the economics of nuclear power, the article failed to point out, as it should have, that the study was prepared for an environmental advocacy group, which, according to its Web site, is committed to ‘‘tackling the accelerating crisis posed by climate change — along with the various risks of nuclear power.’’ The article also failed to take account of other studies that have come to contrasting conclusions, or to include in the mix of authorities quoted any who elaborated on differing analyses of the economics of energy production.
Although the article did quote extensively from the Web site of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, representatives of the institute were not given an opportunity to respond to the claims of the study. This further contributed to an imbalance in the presentation of this issue.
After having an Atomic Insights reader point to the existence of the UPI story, I visited that article and attempted to add a clarifying comment to warn UPI readers that the story was a poorly researched lie. The Atomic Insights reader had informed me that his correcting comment had been screened off by the moderator, so I tried to be careful in my wording. However, since I am not sure if my comment will get published by the UPI, I figured I would share it with you here.
Some myths will never die, especially when they are tales that serve the economic interests of the people who repeat them. The story above quotes Ken Moss, a solar system salesman.
The truth is that solar PV electricity is frightfully costly – the only reason that it even exists in the market is that taxpayers often supply as much as 65% of the cost of the system installation. In addition, electricity customers called “ratepayers” are often forced to pay solar electricity suppliers a price that is often two to five times the market price for electricity.
(By the way, do you know any tax payers who are not also rate payers? We all end up paying twice to help the often wealthy people who decorate their homes or businesses with “feel good
” solar panels.)
The “study” was done in North Carolina by a retired professor from Duke and a first year graduate student. It was NOT done by Duke University. It was sponsored by an antinuclear activist organization called NC Warn that calls itself an environmental group. The study was boldly titled “Solar and Nuclear Costs — The Historic Crossover: Solar Energy is Now the Better Buy”, but if you actually read the study you will find that the Appendix computed a solar PV COST of 35 cents per kilowatt hour. That compares very unfavorably with the average cost of electricity from our installed fleet of 104 nuclear power plants of just 2.03 cents per kilowatt hour.
The NC Warn sponsored study claimed that the cost for the customer for solar electricity, with the system financed at a low rate of 6% over 20 years, was 15.9 cents because US federal taxpayers paid 30% of the cost of the panel and installation and the taxpayers in the state of North Carolina paid 35% of the cost. Those generous gifts seemed like such a great deal that the money ran out long before all interested people were able to buy their roof decorations.
This was a reverse Robin Hood kind of arrangement where even people who live in apartments and could not afford their own suburban roofs provided forced contributions to the often prosperous people who thought that the panels would make them look “green” in the eyes of their neighbors. It is nice, I guess, to be on the good side of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
I wrote about this “study” last summer when the story first appeared in the New York Times. My analysis appeared in an Atomic Insights post titled “Gullible Reporting by the New York Times on the Cost of Solar Electricity Versus Nuclear Electricity.” After a little storm arose in the nuclear blogging world, the NY Times editors took the rare step of issuing an “Editor’s Note” essentially apologizing for the inaccuracy of the report. That apology is still appended to the Times article about the antinuclear activist sponsored study.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
There is additional evidence that the anonymous author of the UPI article had an antinuclear motive for writing his brief piece. Here is what he wrote after the lede:
The nuclear power generation industry and its various lobbies have successfully campaigned for the nuclear option as the most economical for consumers planning for large increases in demand for electricity.
Outside the United States, too, nuclear power generation has won new friends in recent years despite controversies over nuclear energy’s dual use — the other as a weapon of mass destruction.
Words like that should never be used in a piece filed in the Science section; those words belong on the opinion page, especially when published by a 104 year old media organization that claims to have “a passion to preserve the best of journalistic practices”.
PS Dr. Blackburn, the author of the antinuclear, prosolar paper commissioned by NC Warn, has been fighting nuclear energy since the 1970s. He testified against CP&L’s Shearon Harris plant in 1976. His opposition assisted in producing a situation in which only one unit was completed on a site with capacity for four units. In 1987, he published a book titled The Renewable Energy Alternative: How the United States and the World Can Prosper Without Nuclear Energy or Coal.
In 2010, the 900 MWe Shearon Harris Unit 1 produced 7.08 Billion kilowatt-hours of electricity with a capacity factor of slightly less than 90%. Assuming it is an average performer, the cost per kilowatt hour was about 2.03 cents, about 1/18th of the cost of electricity from a solar photovoltaic power system.
Update: (Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:18 pm.) I just visited the original article that inspired this post. As noted by a commenter here, a few of the comments that were once posted have mysteriously disappeared. The missing comments share something in common – in calm, factual language they each pointed out that the source material for the article was not a peer reviewed paper, but a commissioned paper by an advocacy group. Here is a PDF of the page captured on January 28. Compare it to the comments that are currently posted on the article.
I’ve posted the following in response:
This article is based on a fraudulant study put out by NC Warn, an avowed antinuclear activist group. Six months ago, the New York Times issued an editorial correction addressing some issues which were recognised as severely comprimising the integrity of an article they had published which was based on the same misinformation as this one. That article was titled:
Nuclear Energy Loses Cost Advantage
By DIANA S. POWERS
Published: July 26, 2010
It appeared in the comments section with no problems, and there were two other critical comments as well, but they’d been added recently, so maybe it’s just a matter of the mod not being around at the moment to delete them. There was no trace of Rod’s comment. We’ll see.
I think I might have figured out about the disappearing comments – When I first created my comment, and tried to post it, it wouldn’t post, and gave me an error that you can’t have links in the post. So, I removed the “http://” protocol prefix from my link, which basically makes it text that users can choose to copy and paste into their browsers if they are interested, but didn’t result in a clickable link in the post.
I *suspect* that the UPI is being anal about their ‘no links in comments’ policy, which is just *ridiculous*, because when you make a claim, it’s common courtesy to provide sources for your claims (although, given that UPI didn’t even provide the NAME of the NC Warn study in their article, nor links to the study, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – they don’t provide proper attribution or sources for their articles, why should they let commentors ‘show them up’ with better journalistic practice than they exercise).
Anyhow, I don’t know, but I suspect my comment was deleted because of the no links policy, and that might also be why Rod’s comment never showed up – the UPI website shows comments immediately, from what I can tell, if they pass the automatic filters that are put in place – like I said, my comment had been posted for about a 1/2 hour before being deleted.
Just to provide the rebuttal on feed-in-tariffs, which are a central part of your response, you “stretch the truth” in a number of claims.
1) “A number of government leaders want to reduce those subsidy payments as part of an important effort to reduce deficit spending” (Rod). Feed-in-tariffs do not add to budget deficits. Most FIT programs are entirely paid for through private investment, and cost increases for energy shared by ratepayers (I’m fine calling this a consumption tax, for lack of a better term). Deficits for households, maybe, but not for governments. Many FIT participants pay numerous license, inspection, and insurance fees, and also have their energy and property improvements taxed, so they actually raise revenue for the government.
2) “ratepayers are often forced to pay solar electricity suppliers a price that is often two to five times the market price for electricity” (Rod). This is a very clever faulty claim, because it sticks in the craw of folks who are ideologically driven (to hate subsidies, government intervention, and anything that stands in the way of the “free” market). Well, energy is not a free market, subsidies drive down the cost of energy for many sources (nuclear, oil, natural gas among them), and the FIT rate paid to solar is actually the “market rate” for this source of energy. So rate payers are asked to pay for the market rate (true cost) of an energy source (equipment, ROI, and energy production costs). It makes a small difference to the overall argument, since rate payers are still being asked to pay a higher cost for solar, but it does get us a little bit further along towards understanding energy markets, and closer to real claims about the true cost of energy (which is the point of writing your response).
3) “ratepayers are often forced to pay solar electricity suppliers a price that is often two to five times the market price for electricity” (Rod). I see another problem here too. It really matters how you describe it
Clarification on solar PV lifetimes: The e-folding time for a large collection of solar panels is about 50 years. That means in 30 years we should expect that a large solar array would be providing less than 60% of its original installed capacity.
@EL – You have very obviously never been a businessman in any kind of competitive market. What the heck does the following mean?
FIT rate paid to solar is actually the “market rate” for this source of energy
Electricity is electricity – the customer does not care what the source of the power is. They are buying kilowatt-hours that are completely indistinguishable from each other.
Would you go into a grocery store and expect to see two completely different prices for identical apples based on the fact that one was produced inefficiently and hand carried to the store with kid gloves – adding a great deal to the cost – while the other was delivered in bulk from a highly efficient and well qualified producer who knew exactly how to care for his trees to produce the best possible fruit?
Spare me the economics lesson.
Indeed, Rod. You highlight what EL fails to understand.
What pisses people off is that they are not allowed to opt out of the “market” for this source of energy as they should be allowed by any sensible economic policy that isn’t rigged to pay a bunch of corrupt con men running a fairly effective scam.
It’s like saying that organized crime is OK, because it results in only a “tiny” increase in costs to the average consumer.
Naturally, EL preemptively writes off this frustration as a something that “sticks in the craw of folks who are ideologically driven,” which betrays both a lack of understanding of fundamental economics and a substantial ideological bias. EL appears to be projecting.
Anyone who doesn’t understand that an inherently fungible commodity like electricity has no special “markets,” should be barred from commenting on the topic.
@Brian – I was with you all the way up to the point where you said something about being barred from commenting. Not only do I strongly believe in the right of free speech, but keeping people like EL from commenting would remove the literary foil that helps to emphasize our own factual observations. (grin)
Rod – I meant that they shouldn’t be taken seriously.
I’m the last person who would advocate censorship.
I agree wholeheartedly that people like EL should be permitted to comment, in spite of the fact that I can’t be bothered to engage with him. The fact that pronuclear blogs and forums do not censor critics, as antinuclear sites do, is yet a further indication that they must lie to keep their readership, and we do not.
“It certainly looks very expensive when you describe it this way. But why don’t we compare it to something like peak energy pricing…”
It that kind of thinking that brought us into the economic recession. Irresponsible investments, speculation, hiding real costs.
FIT’s are government-mandated transfers of wealth from consumers to inefficient power producers for political reasons. We are looking at higher power bills for absolutely no reason other than to line the pockets of a small group at the detriment of many. We are faced with this situation because of the lobbying efforts of AWEA (who have a former petroleum executive as their leader), solar R&D firms, Wall Street (who love their quick pay backs provided them from guaranteed subsidies) and anti-nuke organizations such as Greenpeace.
Without FIT’s and direct tax subsidies, wind and solar would not have survived in an open market place. Plain and simple.
@Bill – well said. I like to call them the reverse Robin Hood power source. Perhaps I should say that they are terrific as long as you happen to be a personal friend of the Sheriff of Nottingham and are able to collect the loot taken from the poor. (I am being sarcastic – I hate the idea of forcing people who are struggling to provide subsidies for those who are far better off.)
Bill – “Brainwashed” describes the situation quite accurately.
Bill, in the UK, your prediction has actually come true already: the UK government is paying subsidies to a growing number of people who are considered to have “fuel poverty”, meaning they spend a large portion of their income on energy. When the first government program fails, they have another program to fix it.
I’ve read somewhere that in the UK, the Feed-In-Tariff is officially considered as a tax by the government, even though it is not collected as a tax. Actually its a new form of “stealth taxation”, that could soon be used to “disguise” other taxes. Imagine unemployment benefits being no longer paid by the government through tax and spend, but by forcing the employed people by law to help the unemployed directly. Government can then proudly say they have not increased any taxes, and have not increased the deficit.
The other real issue with FITs is that they will be a long term drain on the economy. The “jobs” associated with building and installing the systems occur today, but the system purchasers finance those installations with long term loans backed up by guarantees that the owners will be able to sell electricity at a rate significantly above the market for 20 years. The government will enforce its mandated contracts with unwilling electric power customers to pay those exorbitant rates so that the debts can be repaid.
I have long been wondering how long the prosperity enabled by the “German miracle” of continued exports of manufactured goods will last as energy costs steadily increase. Your labor rates are not very competitive and now your energy costs are rising much faster than the rates in other manufacturing centers that are rapidly building lower cost power sources. Your unemployment rates are high. Even the vaunted engineering and technical skills are being overcome as others invest heavily in education and training.
Are you worried? I would be.
1. I agree with you: feed-in tariffs are often deficit neutral, as they’re paid for by ratepayers. Additional charges to ratepayers are what make them so awful: see #3.
2. As far as subsidies: I don’t mind subsidies for things that are truly useful. Spending on subsidies for wind and solar doesn’t qualify, as you’re paying for something that doesn’t generate when we need it to, it generates when it feels like it. If you were going to make a technology neutral definition of clean energy and then throw subsidies at whatever the market chose that fits the criteria for clean energy, this would hardly be as objectionable as sending subsidies to specific technologies like wind or solar which don’t really work. Government is great at doing broad research and development of a wide variety of technological options for the market. What government is not great at doing is choosing which technologies will or should win or lose on their own.
3. Just because the charge might be small – in many cases it isn’t – doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Feed-in-tariffs paid for by ratepayers are the worst sort of tax, because the broken window theory is in full force as the tax is regressive, and it targets productive capital and working people – exactly whom you don’t want to target with a tax: you’re taking from someone doing something useful with their money, the middle class and the poor, industrial and commercial firms which employ the middle class and the poor, and redirecting it to Mr. Rich Solar and Wind Speculator, who probably doesn’t have trouble making ends meet and probably isn’t a very efficient employer of people. Now if subsidies for a clean energy standard were paid for with a tax on the contents of Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin with all the hoards of gold sitting there doing nothing – not employing anyone except for a few guards – then they might be useful in that they would turn hoarded capital into productive capital.
@EL – you are being deceptive. If there is a difference in the quality between one kilowatt-hour and another, it is measured by qualities like reliability, voltage consistency and frequency steadiness. Hands down, a nuclear generated kilowatt-hour is far more likely to “taste better” than one that is generated by an unreliable power source like the wind or sun. In the case of weather dependent power, you had better have some serious post generation conditioning and grid provided smoothing if you want to be able to plug in your computer or process control system. With regard to freshness, it is far more likely that the wind or solar generated kilowatt-hour had to be produced and put into storage, where it deteriorates, than it is that the nuclear generated kilowatt hour had to be stored.
Here is an interesting question for you – how much money have taxpayers actually provided to nuclear project developers? Has a single dime flowed from government coffers to new nuclear or have all of the dollars been flowing in the other direction.
Yes, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, written with a lot of input from the establishment energy industry contains provisions for production tax credits after the projects are complete and generating power. Why do you think that nuclear technology was purposely left off of the modification of that law when the economic crisis hit, tax credit value dried up and developers pushed for immediate cash grants in lieu of production tax credits?
I also defy you to provide me a single example of government money flowing from taxpayers into the coffers of a nuclear power plant operator. Yes, politically well connected companies like Westinghouse and GE have been able to obtain a good deal of government support for their technology development, most of which is sitting on the shelf and not being used to actually compete against fossil fuel.
Again, I cannot and will not defend the established energy industry, but I can defend the technology that might enable us to overcome their power. Nuclear fission threatens the establishment because it requires several orders of magnitude less material input, and it requires much more human creativity and thought. Those are harder inputs to control and dominate; that aspect threatens the dominance of the established petroleum pushers.
Rod – Well, it’s clear to me, from what EL wrote, that this is all about marketing. Notice that the good apple is the one marketed as an “organic” apple.
If you’ve ever looked into the official “standards” that decide what can be called “organic,” you know that it’s all marketing hype. The rules are quite arbitrary, and many of those who prefer “organic” products would be quite surprised if they were to learn what is actually allowed under these rules. Similarly, the “renewable” brand is based on a similar type of marketing-related thinking.
They’re both examples of branding, but they are effective branding, because they have people like EL here deciding that one is good and another is bad, simply based on marketing terms.
“Do you think it’s fair to ‘force’ anti-nuclear activists to provide production tax credits or loan guarantees to an industry they oppose (for whatever reasons they claim)?”
EL – No, you misunderstand. Nobody here is arguing against subsidies for wind turbines because of some sort of bizarre quasi-religious orthodoxy or because of some sort of psychopathic phobia (as the anti-nuclear crowd are). We’re saying that it’s a waste of money. The price is large, and the returns are very small, unless you happen to be in the renewable energy business.
Besides, an effective democracy has measures in place to prevent a vocal minority from dominating the majority. We have to keep the inmates from running the insane asylum, after all. The majority of the US public supports nuclear, with 28% saying that they “strongly favor” nuclear power.
Of course, the majority of the public favors renewable energy as well, which is why the Renewable Energy Standards and the Production Tax Credits will remain. Nevertheless, that doesn’t invalidate the argument that such incentives and a FIT are huge wastes of money that are spent on technologies that simply can’t cut the mustard, and probably never will.
Finally, let’s look once again a who is promoting “renewable” energy. I notice that on the back page of the Jan. 17 issue of the New Yorker is a full-age ad that reads, “It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy — We agree.” This is an ad from Chevron USA, Inc.
@EL – that is an interesting example of “subsidies”. Are you aware of the nature of the “costs” that are being shared by the DOE? In each of those regulatory initiatives, there is an appropriation made for the DOE, which provides that money to the regulatory demonstration project. The money is then a PART of the check that gets written from the project to pay the US NRC’s regulatory service fee of $259 per bureaucrat hour spent reviewing the license application.
My professional days are partially spent reading, understanding, and trying to figure out how to implement programs and policies in order to produce an acceptable license application. The guideline that the US NRC has issued for reviewing those license applications is 7500 pages long. The average application that has been filed for review is at least twice that long. That is for a technology that has been in continuous use in the United States since 1953 without a single example of having injured a member of the general public.
The assistance paid by the DOE is about half of the amount that the applicants pay for the NRC fees and that assistance is limited to just a few demonstration projects. It is not available for the vast majority of the applicants.
Yep, the nuclear industry is thriving because it is being given an unfair “subsidy” from the DOE in order to pay the US NRC for the vast amount of assistance that it provides to help the industry design better and more productive power plants. (/end sarcasm.)
Have you ever lived in a country for an extended period of time where the Electricity was un-reliable? Your saying that we should live with the “rhythms of nature” basically says that most people should die early and live until they die even more painfully than we normally do. Please don’t confuse camping with a home. Please don’t confuse the rhythms of nature with what benefits humans. Many of the school children in the PI (at 50 to 60 per class with one teacher) do not have light bulbs to study by in school unless the parents of the children supply them and the cost of the electricity. It is a huge challenge to study in a dim room.
The whole point – which seems so obvious that perhaps you have overlooked it – of having energy is that it enables you to do what you CANNOT do without it. The concept of reliability is inherent in that point. A sick slave can’t help you in the fields. A boat that floats only half the time can’t get your fish to shore. A bow that only breaks 80% of the time is difficult to feed your family with. Well, I hope you get the point that any tool is only as helpful as it is reliable.
@EL – I have a number of friends from my old home of Annapolis. So does my wife, the lady who spent 5 years working for a large environmental organization. Last week there was a heavy, wet snowfall there that knocked out a lot of power lines. Based on the commentary we have seen on Facebook from those friends, even the most ardent of the environmentalists is upset about the lack of control that they have over their lives when there is no electricity flowing from their sockets because of a bad weather event.
I expect that my message resonates with the ones that think at more than a surface level of depth. Why would anyone chose to place a larger and larger portion of the system that provides that vital service into a greater and greater risk of interruption due to variations in weather?
@EL: Control might not be the most attractive paradigm in terms of energy – we might fantasize that one day we can extract highly dense, reliable, free energy out of thin air without environmental consequences or potential control problems without paying a single penny above the obviously low cost of an apparatus designed to do so, but unfortunately, such things are impossible, and control is what we have to live with.
Hydropower and nuclear power are closest to that imaginary ideal, as both have high reliability and the electricity generated is very cheap. Of course, both involve tremendously large quantities of stored energy, and as such, control is important.
Nuclear power, like free speech, like constitutional democracy, like the United States, is not for everyone. If America is “advanced citizenship”, nuclear power is “advanced energy”. You have to tolerate that it is an extraordinarily complex source of energy that is nuanced, confounding (nth order effects like neutron activation, xenon preclusion, and fission product generation – never mind failure-mode-related phenomena – are some of the most confounding phenomena that anyone trying to generate a kilowatt hour has had to deal with yet), and deeply weird, but if you can master its high arcana, its greater mysteries, and become one of Weinberg’s technomagi, there are few greater powers in the ‘verse, and none that we in the present can access in a controlled and large-scale fashion. To paraphrase Churchill, just like constitutional democracy, fission is the worst source of energy, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.
And just as constitutional democracy has given many of the people of this world greater freedom, equality, and justice, cheap energy through nuclear power promises them the same.
I don’t think that living in harmony with nature and the Universe is the most important human goal, the end all and be all, the paradigm to transcend all paradigms. To paraphrase Kim Stanley Robinson, writing in “Red Mars”, the beauty of nature exists in the human mind. Without the human presence, it is just a collection of atoms, no different than any other random speck of matter in the universe. It’s we who understand it, and we who give it meaning.
I think the most important human goal is, therefore, the greatest good, the greatest happiness, for the greatest possible number. To that end, we ought to assign nature value, but value in proportion to its worth to us. Indeed it does have value, on a primary level as our life-support system, and on a secondary level, for its aesthetics, complexity, and beauty. But assigning a very high value to the aesthetics of nature is a luxury that the rich can afford, and the poor cannot. We rich folks can afford baubles like organic food, windmills, and going “back to the land” or “back to basics” because we can afford it. The poor nations of this planet live in harmony with nature and natural cycles not because they can afford it, but because they have to. They eat organic (using all-natural fertilizer) and use solar panels with batteries (if they have any sort of electricity at all) because they have no access to an efficient food production infrastructure and no access to an efficient energy distribution infrastructure.
The reason we went industrial is because we saw that a better world was possible than one lived in harmony with nature and natural cycles. Clean water. Wholesome food. Abilities to treat infections. Childbirth with minimal infant and mother mortality. An end to many infectious diseases. Lifespans that extend into the 70 to 80 year range. Education for all. Liberation from back-breaking, monotonous labor. An end to serfdom and slavery. The ability to make a better world possible, not just for a few of us who have a superior capacity for violence, but for everyone.
Now in this day and age, the benefits of this better world that our forebears have made possible are distributed unevenly, and much of the world is still in forced harmony with nature and natural cycles. Wind and solar cannot provide adequate energy to achieve a more even distribution of the benefits of industrial civilization, and fossil fuels are not plentiful enough to provide such a distribution cheaply. That leaves us with nuclear energy and other technologies, where appropriate. So as to provide for our great numbers – the consequences of our technological development – so as to make a better world possible for everyone, we must use efficient, controlled, reliable, dense modern technological systems to replace inefficient, uncontrolled, erratic, diffuse legacy natural systems.
Our object here is to create a world where people have enough wealth to go back to basics, to live in harmony with nature and natural cycles, be actors in a living history museum, because they choose to, not because they have to.
And because it can be done, it will be done. So we might as well start.
EL: “But I can’t help but reading “weather dependent” as a plus
Just one last comment on subsidies. There’s a very good article in yesterday’s NYT on energy subsides, and efforts of Obama administration to remove long-standing taxpayer support for oil and coal. It’s something that has been tried before (and has failed on two separate occasions), and faces long standing and protracted battles in Congress (primarily from Republicans and Democrats from coal and oil producing states). The effort has to start somewhere, doesn’t it, but these things are hard to change (and are pretty fundamental to how we develop energy and provide a resource at a low enough cost to benefit the greatest number of people).
Article includes a link to a EIA summary of subsidies by energy source. We all know the various ways these subsidies can be hidden or minimized, “often euphemistically referred to as incentives, tax credits, preferences or loan guarantees.” Again, I think EIA is a pretty independent source for these kinds of things. It’s not particularly friendly to renewables, and tracks the big energy sources most closely (coal, NG, and oil). In their accounting, nuclear gets about as much subsidy support as coal, oil, natural gas, and hydroelectric together (at some $1,267 million FY 2007 dollars). Wind and solar combined get a total $898 million. On a subsidy per unit of production basis, the assistance to wind and solar are off the charts (in an entirely different category). Nuclear is next in line receiving some 3.5 times the level support as coal, or 6 times the level of support as natural gas and oil. To take these numbers seriously, it seems subsidy support is still a pretty important and fundamental part of both industries (and to our national strategy of delivering energy at a cost that is affordable to the widest range of consumers, and supports a growing and diversified economy).
Another article yesterday looks at this from a different angle. It suggests energy subsidies may not been enough in a deregulated electricity market to get nuclear out of the design phase and into construction and producing energy in a competitive marketplace (primarily because of the current low price of natural gas). What may be needed, Obama administration holds, is a “clean energy [portfolio] standard” that includes nuclear. Quite a statement! I feel these are fairly important articles, following on the heels of the SOTU, and are worth a look (which is why I have included them here).
I have long wondered what these “subsidies” are for Nuclear power. I understand that the research for Fusion gets thrown in here. Since Fusion has never and likely will never contribute a single KWH to the grid for sale, I don’t think that it counts as a subsidy for the Nuclear Fission industry.
Also, the constant refrain – as in the NYT article that no one will insure Nuclear is a sly side step from the fact that the industry is self insured with an actual invested capital higher than for any other industry. No one will insure Nuclear because no one has to!! It is physically impossible for a Light Water Reactor to cause enough damage to drain the available funds from this pool. Perhaps if some strange confluence of the moon and Jupiter were to occur…
Touche, well put and very true. Those are the realities of island life in the tropics before urbanization. Gossip and friends are far more important than power and jobs.
I will grant you that happiness does not come from a power plug 🙂 Not at all. 🙂 But, I also wander through the cities and most of my concern is for the urban dwellers who do not have options for work or eating. I like your contrasting of the “polite corruption” with the more harsh unfeeling type. Some of the politicians gently capture the gambling proceeds… While others kill their political enemies and bury them in quickly dug shallow graves. The first are much better (in degree) than the second.
Have you ever seen the optimistic cartoon done by GE many many moons ago?
Great optimistic summary done right at the beginning of the Atomic Age.
@Rod, Thanks for following up on this, and the informative post. I hope it does some good – but it can be a bit discouraging, since likely, most folks who see the UPI article will never find this response. Still, maybe it will disabuse *someone* of the notions that article suggests. I hope so.
Also, I think I figured out why my post was deleted, and yours never showed up – UPI appears to have a draconian anti-link policy in comments (probably an anti-spam measure, but it also severely limits public discourse). See my reply below to Finrod.
And. . . I forgot to login again before posting (this morning I decided to re-install Ubuntu Linux on my computer, and since my Ubuntu partition was formatted, I was no longer logged in, but had forgotten I wasn’t logged in).
Looks like UPI is in the same habit of deleting comments that don’t fall in line just like all of the other antinuclear rags. If these sanctimonious clowns think they’re so righteous, why do they feel the need to squash dissent?
My comment on the UPI thread referring to the earlier article in NYT has been deleted.
Finrod – so was mine. I captured the site as a PDF before those comments were removed. I have posted a link to what the comment thread looked like on January 28. It seems like the only missing comments are the ones that were related to efforts to point out the weakness of the primary source material for the article. I find that to be quite interesting in a depressing sort of way.
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